Midwestern Flooding Slows Harvest, Halts Barge Activity

Heavy rains in the upper Midwest have soaked crops and swelled rivers, slowing the harvest and halting barge traffic on portions of the Upper Mississippi River.

According to precipitation maps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the entire continental U.S. ranked 122 percent of normal for September, or “much above average,” its second-highest-ranking. Broken down by region, the upper Midwest ranked 115 percent of normal and the central Midwest, which includes the junction of the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, ranked 120 percent of normal.

Flash flood warnings were issued for many areas in the Midwest for the second week of October.

The rain slowed harvests, although according to an October 5 Bloomberg map, soybean harvests in every state except Louisiana were running ahead of averages for crops harvested by that date. Farmers had been counting on record corn and soy crops to offset low prices, but the rains and harvest delays caused corn and soy futures to bump up.

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Crane Barge Hits Bridge

As river levels rose near Hannibal, Mo., a crane barge pushed by a towboat struck the Hannibal railroad bridge. Officials with Norfolk Southern Corporation and the U.S. Coast Guard report that the bridge was struck around 1:30 a.m. on October 4.  The bridge vertical lift had been raised for river traffic when it was struck. Norfolk Southern resumed operating the bridge lift for river traffic on the morning of October 5, after an inspection determined it was safe. The name of the towboat pushing the barge was not available.

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told The Waterways Journal, “Norfolk Southern employees in our bridges and building group … and contract personnel currently are working to repair components of the bridge’s lift mechanism struck by the crane barge. The damage to the vertical lift was not extensive enough to prevent it from being raised for river traffic. While repairs have been underway, Norfolk Southern has coordinated with the U.S. Coast Guard to raise the bridge twice a day in three-hour windows to allow river traffic to pass through. These controlled lifts, which have been occurring from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. daily, appear to be meeting the needs of commercial river traffic and are done in agreement with the Coast Guard.”

St. Louis Braces For High Water

On October 5, the Mississippi River at Lock and Dam 15 flooded along with the Rock River for the fourth time this year (earlier flooding events happened in February, May and September).

As of October 11, Upper Mississippi River Locks 16 through 22 were all closed due to high water. A Rock Island Engineer District spokesperson told The Waterways Journal the district had no estimated date for reopening.

In St. Louis, Mo., Col. Bryan K. Sizemore, St. Louis Engineer District commander, activated the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) on October 10 to prepare for forecasted river stages by the end of the week. The EOC will operate 7 days a week from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

St. Louis District flood fight teams were responding and providing support to levee districts. The St. Louis District said its attention was focused on levees along the Upper Mississippi River at points north of the St. Louis metro area.